While Left Behind features comparatively fewer moments which we would traditionally describe as ‘set-pieces’, the concentration on dialogue and character-to-character interaction means you’re not left wanting for a sense of engagement or drama. In an explicit sense Left Behind is less exciting than the main game, but its overall levels of satisfaction and fulfilment are at least its equal.
There are still moments of combat, though, albeit ones that play out in a slightly different way than when we were in charge of Joel. Ellie is significantly less well-armed than Joel, making stealth the intelligent approach – as opposed to simply an optional one. To make things more interesting there’s a focus on multi-faction combat, with bandits and infected appearing in the same space at the same time.
Managing the situation, rather than diving into it, seems to be the best plan of attack as it’s possible to play the two sides off of one another. Working out a suitable means of forcing the two factions into combat with each other, as you watch and wait from a position of relative safety, is a new skill that must be learned quickly if you want to avoid confrontation. Picking off any remaining stragglers is a much better option than trying to pick off entire gangs.
“Even with the main The Last of Us we went past our comfort zone when it came to having so few combat encounters,” Druckmann discusses when probed about the scarcity of Left Behind’s combat. “No one complained that there wasn’t enough combat, though, so that gave us confidence.
“With Left Behind we wanted to push that concept even further and have even fewer combat encounters and see how people react to that… see if they still like it and whether or not it still works for them.
“We wanted to push that concept even further and have even fewer combat encounters and see how people react to that… see if they still like it.”
“In a lot of ways it was more challenging to do less combat because we know how to do combat really well and have the experience of doing it from the main game. To come up with clever minigame stuff was actually a lot harder to do. I think those were as hard to do as the entire collapsing building sequence in Uncharted 2.”
Just comparing those moments in Left Behind with that sequence from Uncharted 2 demonstrates the kind of gravity Naughty Dog is aiming for with the story of Ellie and Riley. This is a studio that has well and truly proven its ability to tell adventure stories of physical and objective-based exploration within worlds fraught with danger.
It’s now time to show that they can provide the sorts of stories that delve deeply and responsibly into the exploration of a character’s own self – their desires, their needs and how their past has shaped their present.
You can be the judge of whether or not they’ve achieved that when Left Behind is released on 14 February.